Elspeth Williams

2017 Winner

Position: Associate Director, Policy & Government Relations
Organization: Population Council
Current Location: United States

Masters in Public Health, Women’s and Reproductive Health Concentration; Maternal and Child Health Certificate from Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health

Additional Degrees and Certifications:
• Bachelors of Science in Foreign Service, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service
International Development Certificate

Elspeth Williams leads Policy and Government Relations for the Population Council, a global research organization, to inform U.S. policymaking on international reproductive health, HIV prevention, and girls’ education and rights. In this role, she oversees efforts to link the Population Council’s research in more than 50 countries to advocacy efforts in Washington, DC, in order to focus foreign assistance investments on proven programs and technologies. Prior to this, Williams worked at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Advocacy team, building new partnerships with governments, multilateral institutions and partner organizations to galvanize progress towards Family Planning 2020 (FP2020). As a grants manager, she funded and partnered with global advocacy organizations pushing for increased political commitment and financial investment needed to ensure quality family planning. Also at the Gates Foundation, Williams also served as Chief of Staff to the Global Development President. She began her career in Rwanda with CARE International working on health, economic and education programming. Williams holds an MPH from Johns Hopkins University, with a concentration in Women’s and Reproductive Health, and a BS in Foreign Service from Georgetown University.

“Williams works to promote evidence-based reproductive health policymaking. She’s effectively forged new partnerships with donors, governments and global NGOs to garner funding and commitments to international reproductive health.

– John Townsend, Program Director, Reproductive Health at Population Council

Describe your contributions to and achievements in family planning.

As a reproductive health policy expert and advocate, I work to inform and influence global family planning policies and funding. In my current role leading U.S. policy and government relations at the Population Council, I advocate for high-quality scientific evidence to inform U.S. global policymaking to ensure effective reproductive health policies, programs, and technologies globally. In my previous family planning advocacy work at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, I forged new partnerships with governments, multilateral institutions, and partner organizations to galvanize progress towards FP2020. I funded and partnered with global advocacy organizations pushing for increased political commitment and financial investment needed to ensure quality family planning in their countries.

What sparked your passion for family planning?

During my years working and traveling in sub-Saharan Africa—as a field-worker, implementing partner, and donor—I have met countless women robbed of their reproductive rights. Their lack of access to family planning is one of the most severe social injustices of this modern era. It is also one of the most significant lost opportunities—investment in family planning is a game-changer for advancing global health and development. My passion for justice and women’s health and rights fuels my advocacy.

Give one or two examples of how you display leadership in your family planning work.:

As a grantmaker, I managed $10 million in advocacy grant partnerships with civil society organizations in Pakistan, Nigeria, Kenya, India, and the Philippines to mobilize political leaders, service providers, religious leaders, and advocates to improve family planning access.

Working in Tanzania, I developed recommendations for higher learning institutions to increase youth SRHR services for their students. Some of these recommendations have been adopted by the government.

If you are named a winner of 120 under 40, how will you use this new platform and the $1000 grant to advance your work?

Ensuring continued U.S. funding for international family planning has never been more important. Sharing stories thru videos and social media helps to showcase the powerful life-saving and improving effects of access to reproductive health and make the case for foreign assistance. If selected, I would gather compelling multimedia stories from the countries in which Population Council works to bring evidence and stories from places like rural Tanzania to policymakers on Capitol Hill.

Photos of the nominee in the field/at work